Why sugar addiction is like drug abuse

If you're a sugar addict and try to quit, you can have withdrawals in the same way drug addicts can. Photo / Getty
If you're a sugar addict and try to quit, you can have withdrawals in the same way drug addicts can. Photo / Getty

Sugar is something we consume every day.

It's in our coffee, in our tomato sauce and in that chocolate bar you've treated yourself to.

But shocking new research has found eating sugar is similar to taking drugs like cocaine and morphine.

The research out of Queensland University of Technology discovered the dreadful affects sugar addictions are having on our brains, causing a change in our behaviour and even in some cases, leading to depression.

PhD researcher Masoor Shariff has compared sugar addiction to drug abuse and found some very scary similarities between the two.

Eating sugar and drug abuse changes the layout of our neuron brain cells in the same way.

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"Basically neuron brain cells communicate with each other and other parts of the body and if there's a change in the structure and layout it's going to change the communication," Mr Shariff said.

"That impacts behaviour and then you can see the same dramatic change when you take sugar as you do when you take other drugs."

Neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett said when we have a sugar addiction, our brain releases dopamine, which is what leads to cravings.

Dopamine is also released when we take a hit of drugs and it makes us feel pleasure and attachment to what we've consumed.

After long-term drug or sugar abuse, the dopamine levels drop, which leads to higher consumption of a substance because you are trying to get that pleasurable feeling back.

This means you can get addicted to sugar, the same way you get addicted to drugs.

Professor Bartlett said if you're a sugar addict and try to quit, you can have withdrawals in the same way drug addicts can.

When you try to quit sugar, it causes a dopamine imbalance, the same as if you were to go cold turkey from drugs.

The researchers initially were trying to discover what alcohol addiction did to the brain and decided to test sugar as well and were completely shocked by the findings.

"I was surprised, I still am," Mr Shariff said.

"Sugar is something that is so prevalent and it's given to kids and it could be having the same affect as drugs on us.

"This really put the spotlight on the fact we need to re-evaluate our sugar intake."

Sugar is also having a similar affects on us as tobacco and the researchers are looking into weather drugs to help quit smoking could cure sugar addictions.

People addicted to tobacco can access a drug called Champix, which helps reduce cravings and Mr Shariff believes the drug could work in the same way for those who can't stop eating sugar.

Sugar addiction causes disorders like binge-eating and leads to a lack of motivation and sometimes depression.

It can also cause people to lose control and impact your mood.

These new shock findings really drive home just what sugar is doing to our bodies.

We already know it's a leading factor when it comes to obesity and the latest World Health Organisation figures tell us 1.9 billion people in the world are overweight and 600 million are considered obese.

"Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain," Professor Bartlett said.

The researchers still don't know exactly how much sugar we need to consume before it becomes a problem but Mr Shariff said it was important for people to consume it in moderation.

"If you consume lots of sugar, especially over a long period of time, that's not going to be very helpful," he said.

Those thinking they can just replace sugar with artificial sweetener should also beware.

Mr Shariff has also looked at what that does to our brain and it is having a very similar affect to sugar and drugs.

So far the relationship between sugar and drugs has been tested on rats and Mr Shariff is hoping a human trial will be the next stage.

"We want to try Champix on humans to see if it does reduce sugar cravings and we want to certainly test a host of other things this particular study has highlighted," he said.

"Hopefully we can develop newer drugs in the future and I am interested in examining the affect sugar has on the brain over an extended period of time and seeing if the brain can recuperate."

- news.com.au

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